Innovation

Choice Shonky Awards: Australia’s worst products named and shamed

Myriam Robin /

From dummies that babies can swallow, to the oats cereal that doesn’t contain any oats, consumer advocate Choice has released its annual Shonky Awards.

Selected from more than 400 nominations by Choice’s team of consumer advocates, businesses that have been named and shamed include some of Australia’s largest and most well-known, including Qantas, Energy Australia (formerly TRUenergy), Kleenex and Dairy Farmers.

Some smaller companies also made the list.

Credit Repair Australia, which claims to have helped 150,000 people repair their credit rating, also took out a gong, both for its $990 non-refundable administration and service fee (Choice says that’s the last thing its indebted clients need), and for being known to “overstate its ability to improve a credit report”.

“While there are other predatory businesses feeding off consumers’ financial despair, this company has dealt with more than 150,000 Australians in the past 10 years, inflicting further hardship and shonkiness on a number of them.

“Frankly, the shonkiest thing about Credit Repair Australia is its very name.”

Another small business, Ecoeggs, got the gong of disapproval by Choice for stocking 20,000 hens per hectare, 13 times higher than the voluntary industry code.

“People who buy Ecoeggs may reasonably believe the name means a higher standard of production than other free-range eggs, and the price suggests the same. But in the end we were left wondering exactly what was ‘eco’ about Ecoeggs,” Choice said.

Games publishing house Electronic Arts (EA) also got slammed. Earlier this year, it released the latest iteration of its Sim City franchise, which required players to be signed in through the company’s online servers to play the game. The server-overload upon release meant the game didn’t function for most players.

If any Australian buyers called the helpline for guidance, however, they were billed a staggering flat rate of $2.48 a minute, even though the problem was one caused by EA. Calling up the helpline was free for customers in the United States, leading Choice to label it “another example of the big, fat Australia tax we pay on many things IT-related, including hardware, software and electronic downloads”.

Choicespokesman Tom Godfrey told SmartCompany the awards were a timely reminder to businesses to clean up their act.

“The things we’re looking for are poor performance, hidden charges, lack of transparency, broken promises, consumer confusion and poor value,” he says.

“A couple of the winners this year we believe offer exceptionally poor value for consumers. But they command a premium price nonetheless.”

Historically, industries most likely to receive an award include the food industry, which Godfrey says has persistent issues around labelling, transparency and the claims made on food, and the airline industry, which often struggles with hidden charges.

This year also saw Nuk become the only company in eight years to take out two awards, both times for making dummy shields that were too small meaning, Choice says, a baby could get the whole dummy in their mouth. Recently, the government issued a minimum mandatory standard for dummies sold in Australia.

But, Choice claims, Nuk still failed this standard.

“They failed the voluntary industry standard in 2006 and have now failed the mandatory standard,” Godfrey says. “They’re different products, but with the same flaw.”

The 2013 Shonky Award winners

Dairy Farmers’ Oats Express Liquid Breakfast, Banana and Honey Pictures of whole oats, banana slices and honey on the front notwithstanding, the ingredient list shows this product doesn’t even contain oats, despite its name.

Nuk Starlight Silicone Orthodontic Soother (0-6 months) Nuk entered the Shonky Hall of Fame with its second offence. As in 2006, it was for dummy shields small enough to completely fit in the mouths of babes.

Credit Repair AustraliaChoice claims this product charges a non-refundable upfront fee of $990 to consumers for a service that fails to live up to its name. “This company boasts of having dealt with over 150,000 consumers in the last 10 years – and we reckon that most of them would have been better off not paying for this shonky service,” the advocacy group says.

Ecoegg Despite the name, this product fits 13 times more chickens per hectare than the voluntary industry standard adhered to by most other providers of free-range eggs.

Kleenex Mansize Tissues Despite the ‘man-size’ label, Choice says these tissues are now 14% smaller than they used to be.

Energy AustraliaThe energy giant was slammed by Choice for using the back of a marketing flyer for solar panels to inform consumers that its prices were going up. Even then, this was after the event, and they didn’t say how much the increase was.

EA For billing consumers $2.48 a minute to tell them its product didn’t work.

Qantas Frequent Flyer Toolbar This toolbar monitors your internet searches and offers you Frequent Flyer points in return. But Choice was unhappy with the rewards, claiming it would take you eight years of being monitored to earn a one-way flight between Sydney and Melbourne.

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Myriam Robin

Myriam Robin is a reporter for SmartCompany and its sister site LeadingCompany. She has degrees in economics, international studies and journalism. She likes writing about businesses taking risks and doing new things.

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